Letters From Damascus

Realities and Reactions:
A Poet’s Perspective, A Visitor’s View

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Center of Damascas before the Civil War

Inspiration comes from unlikely sources. For poet Muna Imady that source falls daily from the skies above her beloved Damascus. She inhabits a world governed by the sound of shells landing too close for comfort, a world of checkpoints and queues. Yet, she distills the cacophony of it all into ordered images that crystalize the Damascene day.

Ancient Sham, home to golden houses of worship of every faith, is now awash in continual sound; the howl of rockets, the crackle of guns. To this primal voice of war, Imady replies quietly with the thoughts of those, like her, who must dwell with war as background to their lives.  Her poems capture the ordinary moments, the activities that without the soundtrack of bombs and gunfire are mundane and familiar to anyone anywhere.  I have known Muna and her family for many years and have been a guest in their home. Many of the places she describes jar my memories of a city alive with scents of cumin, grilling meat and lemon blossoms, instead of gunpowder and dust.  E. E. Whiting

 

Snowflakes/December 13, 2013

Snowflakes falling on the ground,

Snowflakes falling on smashed cars,

Snowflakes falling on bombed buildings,

Snowflakes falling on refugee camps,

Snowflakes falling all over town,

Dressing Damascus in a white gown.

 

Another/February 24 2014

Another fabulous wedding,

Another gunshot in the air,

Another explosion in the city,

Another dazzling fair.

Shells land everywhere,

Causing madness and despair,

People indifferently pass by,

And say: “It’s none of our affair!”

A Piece of Advice from a Refugee Boy to his Friend/29 December 2013

A conversation heard while walking in the street

Frozen feet?

Just wrap them with old newspapers,

Then wear your old socks

 

Empty stomach?

Just nibble upon a piece of cardboard,

As you relax on some rocks.

 

No shelter?

Simply cuddle into an old box,
Close your eyes,

Ignore the sounds of shells,

Coming from far and near blocks.

 

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 Ice Cream Maker/Grand Bazaar

Best Served Ice Cream In Town/Oct 30 2013

In an old city

In an old bazaar

In an old ice cream shop

Where ice cream is made

By pounding milk and sugar,

Day and night, together

With rose water, nonstop

Pounded with long wooden poles

Scooped into small silver bowls

Cherished by customers

Young and old.

 

In this old city

In this old bazaar

In this old ice cream shop

Life, as we know it,

has come to a stop

Customers no longer

Eagerly await their ice cream

Served in small silver bowls

But are homeless lost souls

Searching desperately for goals

Watching workers in white gowns

pounding sadness and suffering down

Into whipped mounds of hope,

Best served ice cream in town.

The Fish Salesman/December 26th 2013

The fish flipped and flopped

As the salesman cleaned them one by one:

“I have six girls and only one son,

Who I’ll send abroad in the long run.

There are no jobs here, under the sun,

People are starving, longing for a crumb!

It is not worth living here even for someone

Like me at the age of sixty- one,

No one is left, back here-he said-

“Only old people who have nothing to do,

But to watch the news and feel so blue”

 

His words sounded cold, but sadly true,

As sad as the look in the eyes’ of the fish,

As cold as the sea they once swam through.

Two Drivers/14 Oct 2013

An Eid Conversation While Waiting at the Traffic Light
Sacrifice a sheep!

Said the man driving the jeep,

Sheep are no longer cheap.

No one can afford to pay

Such a high price.

Dogs and cats have become

The poor people’s sacrifice.
Take my advice

Give the poor burghol and rice,

Even bread would be nice.

No need to sacrifice,

This Eid, every one of us,

Has become a special sacrifice.
Everything is so expensive

Except, sadly, we human beings.

Prices in one week have doubled

Even tripled twice.

Think twice,

No need this Eid to make your sacrifice.

With what we are suffering,

I can assure you,

We will all go to paradise.

There is a massive roundabout in Damascus, thronged with cars day and night curling around and around the soaring Sword Monument. It used to mean people were on the move, going to work, going to the theatre, going, going.  If traffic moves at all now, it goes only to the next checkpoint.  Endless circling now evokes the endless round upon round of shelling, the endless circling of factions, each sacrificing the very country it claims to cherish. E. E. Whiting

Muna Imady

Muna Imady was born in Damascus in 1962 to an American mother and a Syrian father. She has a BA in English Literature and a diploma in English-Arabic Translation from Damascus University as well as a Maitrise from the Sorbonne.

Imady has designed a beginners English reading course for children and has written several text books for teaching English as a second language to children. She has also written and translated many short Arabic stories for children which were published in several Arabic magazines.

She has been interested in folktales since she was a child and promised herself that one day she would write a book of the folktales she had collected. Imady lives in Damascus with her husband Dr Nizar Zarka and her three children, Nour, Sammy, and Kareem. She teaches English as a second language to young children and continues to collect folktales in her free time.

She is the author of the collection: Syrian Folktales

E. E. Whiting

E. E. Whiting

E. E. Whiting

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An attorney by profession, E. E. Whiting has freelanced for several years writing on a variety of topics from estate planning to travel to her personal favourite, food. She currently lives in Princeton, NJ and escapes to odd destinations at the drop of a hat. A native of Maine, she lived in Wales while attending college and frequently returns to visit the places few tourists go. She was introduced to Syria by her friend, the biographer Mary Lovell, whose books on Jane Digby and Sir Richard and Isabella Burton kindled Mary’s own love affair with that country years ago. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College with an MA in Mediaeval Studies, Whiting indulges her fascination with history on all her travels.

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